CORVALLIS, Ore. -- For the past five years USC has joked that there must be something in the water up in Oregon. That perhaps there's something funny in the Northwest air whenever the Trojans travel to their northern neighbor. Maybe they begin to take the form of all the lazy rivers and wilted leaves along the hourlong drive to the stadium from their out-of-town hotel.
Whatever it is, USC has not won a game in Oregon since 2005 and the poor performances are beginning to bleed together like a bad horror film marathon the Trojans simply can't turn off no matter how hard they try.
USC's 36-7 loss to Oregon State at Reser Stadium on Saturday played out almost exactly like USC's last trip to Corvallis, when USC's national championship hopes were dashed after digging itself into a 21-0 halftime hole it could get never get out of. On Saturday, USC fell behind 20-0 at the half and the score was actually the least of its concerns as quarterback Matt Barkley was knocked out of the game just before the break with a high left ankle sprain and returned to the sidelines on crutches and wearing a walking boot.
If you're counting at home, USC has now been outscored 83-27 in its last two trips to Oregon and 41-0 in its last two first halves in Corvallis.
Maybe it's time the Trojans stopped testing the water and inspecting the air in Oregon and simply admit that their neighbors to the north have their number regardless of the locale. Oregon's 53-32 win at the Coliseum last month would certainly support that theory. It would be one thing if Saturday's game was played in the driving rain and freezing temperatures and the crowd at Reser Stadium was raucous, but none of the above was the case.
Despite weather forecasts, it never rained during the game, temperatures were a football-friendly 43 degrees at kickoff and the empty seats in both end zones were reminiscent of a game at Washington State. Saturday's loss wasn't so much a product of the Trojans' northern surroundings as their inability to match up with Oregon State.
It had more to do with Mike Riley's game plan, Jacquizz Rodgers' elusiveness and Jordan Poyer's ability to be at the right place at the right time.
"I doubt anyone was going to question how they came out today just knowing the job that Mike does with them and knowing how they always get up for SC," Lane Kiffin said. "Somehow, someway we end exactly as we always do up here."
No one in the Trojans' locker room can understand why they play their worst games in Oregon. You might as well ask them to explain Pythagoras' theorem. Chances are you'll get the same response.
"I have no idea," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "I really have no idea."
"I don't know," tailback C.J. Gable said. "I don't know what it is."
Pete Carroll was always concerned about USC's games in Oregon even at the height of his success, and Kiffin admitted he was unable to enjoy last week's win in Tucson over Arizona, USC's most impressive win of the year, because he was worried about the trip to Corvallis. Not even Kiffin, however, could imagine the Trojans playing their worst game of the season and suffering their worst road loss since their last trip to the Beaver State.
"I have no idea," Kiffin said of USC's losing streak in Oregon. "I don't think anybody has figured it out. Coach [Carroll] didn't figure it out and I haven't figured it out and none of our assistants have. We just come up here and they play really well against us and we help them out."
You could almost see the familiar looks of despair on the faces of the Trojans' players after Poyer stepped in front of Stanley Havili and intercepted a pass from Barkley, taking it back 65 yards for a touchdown to give Oregon a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. Normally a 10-0 deficit with 14:48 left before halftime isn't insurmountable, but considering where the Trojans were playing, it was the equivalent of seeing a college kid running through the forest in the opening scene of a horror film. You've just seen enough to know how it's going to play out.
"The problem with that play is that play happens and you have the feeling of, 'Here we go again,'" Kiffin said. "I'm sure everybody had that feeling. It was what we were trying to guard against so much and why I was actually pretty conservative with the game plan early on. The hope was we would play that way the rest of the game."
While the Trojans played conservative, Oregon State seemingly did whatever it wanted against USC on both sides of the ball in claiming its most lopsided win over USC since the first meeting between the schools in 1914.
As much as the Trojans would like to forget about their drought in Oregon, it hasn't gone unnoticed to their neighbors to the north, who continue to relish beating up on them no matter how many times they do it.
"It's been five years since SC has won in Oregon, including [games against] the Ducks," Rodgers said. "I guess they just struggle whenever they come up here. Guys get pumped up for that game even though we are supposed to approach every game the same. With the history SC has, guys are just looking to knock them off and make history against them."
The way things have gone recently, the next time history will be made in this rivalry is when USC actually finds a way to win a game in Oregon.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.